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Even the media can have a bad day, week… or year (#211)

A little bit of warning:  If you have wine, beer, or something stiffer in your cupboards, you may want to grab a glass of it now… because you’re going to need a drink after reading this.

If you are already well-versed in Canada’s & Québec’s political spectrum, you can skip much of this post and go straight down to the section entitledHow the media’s elastic band became stretched (below).

The first half of this post is going to give you some general information so that the second half makes sense.  This unfortunately is not the type of post that I can break up into smaller chunks, so bear with me.

This is a post about how political tension has been building in Québec’s media for years (particularly since the 2012 student protests – which you can read about by clicking here regarding an earlier post about Gabriel Nadeau Dubois), and how it appears that the elastic band just “broke”.   It will be interesting to see if someone pulls out a “new” elastic band in the coming weeks.

Backgrounder

I have always listened to a LOT of talk radio (both from English stations across Canada, and in French from both Québec & other provinces).  The French-language talk radio I tend to listen to the most are Radio Canada’s “Radio-Première”, primarily from Montréal and Toronto, as well as RCI’s Radio-X in Québec City.

As far as where these two radio stations sit on the socio-economic and political scale in Québec, you couldn’t get two radio stations further apart.

pty.stns

I find that in Québec, radio & TV media can be labelled on a wide-ranging scale in terms of “political ideologies” much more than in English Canada (people often talk about their choice of media in the same breath as their political allegiances).  It is quite interesting in this respect.  In English Canada, with the odd exception (such as the now-defunct Sun News, or certain talk radio stations / shows), people tend to think of English-language radio & TV media as fairly middle-of-the-road, with aspects which can appeal to people on all ends of the spectrum.

With this said, despite Radio-Canada often being grouped into a range which often appeals to certain personalities on the left, I do not believe the “bulk” of its programming venture too far beyond a “mid-range left”.  Of course, there are exceptions to this, and we can’t paint all programming or all hosts with the same brush.

In the same vein, Radio-X often is often labelled as a station which would appeal to those on “far” right.  However, although their programs have a good-deal of overlap with the Conservative party, I do not believe the “bulk” of their programming ventures much further to the right than perhaps what former Federal Progressive Conservative party occupied, or what the formal ADQ party in Québec occupied (however, they are not as “eco” as what the former federal PCs were, and their “eco” stance is one area where they very much overlap with the current Conservatives).  Despite being on the right-end of the Canadian spectrum, Radio-X does not have any religious element to it (Canada generally does not have any Federal parties which venture, on the whole, into religion politics — and where there is a religious element, it is often isolated to a small handful of “independently-minded” MPs or MLAs).

If we to compare where Québec’s TV & radio falls on a comparison with Canadian political partisan scale, the following chart can be quite telling.

pty.pstns

Here is what the chart looks like if we take out other Canadian parties, and just concentrate on those which are players in Québec (federal or provincial).pty.pstns.qc

Generally speaking, adherents who find their political voice reflected on the political chart will also find their voice reflected in the same corresponding range on the media chart.   Take a look at both of the media & political charts, and see if you can line up which media best fits the physical locations of various political parties on the same scale.   This is important, because it plays into the rest of this blog post.

Some side-remarks regarding the political chart:

Because so many parties are so close on the political spectrum (even if their platforms are different), it’s all in the nuances.

In the above chart, although I didn’t mention it, the various NDP & Liberal provincial parties would be roughly positioned in the same place as the Federal NDP & Liberals.  For the sake of reference, I threw in some provincial parties outside of Québec (since there is a variance between the provincial PC parties… Alberta’s is a prime example of one of the PC parties which has made a slight shift to the left over the past 3 to 4 years).

Also, you will note that there is a great deal of overlap between all parties in Canada (mostly concentrated within a couple notches of what would be considered Canada’s “centre”).   Because of this overlap, much of our Canadian politics come down to:

  • (1)  Personality politics of the leader (or of the individual MP, MLA, MPP, or MNA at a local level)
  • (2)  Individual platform issues, rather than an overriding vote for a party as a whole (It is for this reason why we see elections boil down to 3 or 4 major issue demarcations, even if those 3 or 4 issue only constitute 10 or 20% of a party’s overall platform).
  • (3) Voters, like myself, carry a very mixed bag of viewpoints.  What that means is that many voters see constructive views from all ends of the spectrum.  Take me for example:  I know where I stand on many individual issues, but my views are not “partisan” or particular to any one party.  Rather, I have issue-by-issue views which are liable to shift with time, as I become better informed, or with circumstances.   Come election time, I, like many (or most) Canadians try to find the party which best matches perhaps 65-70% of my own issue-by-issue views.  No party will every match all of an individual’s views 100%.  But if I find a party at election time which matches 65-70% of my views, then I’m comfortable when I cast my vote.  But if there is a party which matches every one of your views, you should be a lottery ticket!   In fact, considering our parliamentary style of democracy and how many choices we have out there, this approach is very “Canadian”.  It’s an approach which is generally quite practical, efficient and effective, not to mention very reflective of how a good portion of Canada’s population votes.   And more importantly, it seems to work (after all, we don’t have deadlock for a lack of political options or platforms out there)

These three elements are also the primary reasons why the average Canadian voter is more apt to change their vote from one election to another.   There tends to be much less “party loyalty” or “lifelong loyalty” in Canada than exists in other countries – likely because there is so much overlap.  It just takes one or two major platform issues, or the right (or wrong) personality to come along, and the average person will be more apt to change their vote in a heartbeat (otherwise we would never see polls in Canada shift to the extent that they do, sometimes right up to election day).

Considering that I regularly listen to both Radio-Canada and Radio-X (which are supposedly at “opposite ends of the scale”) I find it fascinating that elements of all these media, as well as the written press (which I didn’t place on this chart) are so often at each other’s throats!   They sometimes hurl accusations at each other even louder and more spiteful than any ruckus in the House of Commons, as if they’re yelling at their worst enemies.

As I continue to write this post, I want to emphasize that,

  1. I’m not a member of any political party, and
  2. I’m not taking a partisan stance as I write the rest of this post (Politically speaking, I’m going to approach the rest of this post as objectively as I can).

How the media’s elastic band became stretched

For about the last three to four years, private talk radio station hosts, newspaper columnists, members of the artistic community (some of whom happen to be hosts at Radio-Canada, Télé-Québec and TVA), and certain television program hosts on all TV networks have been engaged in a verbal tug-of-war – Mostly between the Left and the Right.   Because Québec City’s media is more to the “right”, whereas Montréal’s media is more to the “Left”, this verbal war has also taken on a somewhat “geographic” form (Québec against Montréal, and vice-versa).

The geographic aspect to this verbal media war is much more talked about in Québec City than it is in Montréal.  People in Québec City are much more “aware” of this geographic war of ideologies, perhaps owing to the fact that Montréal doesn’t pay much attention to Québec City’s media, whereas people in Québec City are accustomed to seeing Montréal’s media.  People in Québec City are also much more aware that Québec generally votes to the “right” of the centre line, whereas Montréal generally votes to the “left” of the centre line.

When Montréal’s media takes aim at anything right of centre, I get the impression that Montréal’s Left believes its Left-leaning media is scoring unhindered, unchallenged political points … whereas nothing could be further from the truth.   The moment Montréal’s “Left-leaning” media takes a shot at the “Right” (usually the Conservatives, but also the CAQ, anyone who takes a union to task, budgetary restraint issues, certain industries associated with a rightist perception such as oil, etc.), Québec City’s “Right-leaning” media, within hours, goes bazerk!   The phone lines of Québec City’s talk show programs light up, Québec city twitter accounts smoke from being overworked, and Québec City newspaper columnists put pen to paper for the next day’s editions – all to counter the shots fired from Montréal’s Left-leaning columnists and media programs.   But what I find extremely interesting is that when Québec City’s media also goes on the offensive, most of the time Montréal just yawns, or doesn’t even notice.

How the elastic band finally broke

Since 2011/2012, I’ve been hearing Québec City’s “Right-leaning” media cry foul.   For lack of a better word, they feel that Montréal’s “Left-leaning” media has high-jacked the province’s political scene.  Whether that’s accurate or not, I’m not too sure (everyone is able to vote, after-all, and certain regions and the province as a whole has taken a few sharp turns towards both the right and the left over the last couple of decades).

But needless to say, since the 2012 student protests, the elastic band of this Left-Right war of words has been getting

tighter…

… and tighter

… and tighter

And the elastic band broke!

Something huge happened about a month ago.   It was so big in fact, that I have been holding my breath for the last four weeks, patiently waiting for follow-up reactions in the media…

Here is what happened:

First I will say that I believe Radio-Canada, for the most part, does a very good job of remaining neutral (most of the time).  They are a big organization, with many different personalities – sometimes very strong personalities.   However, I believe that the majority of their on-air (and off-air) personalities do a commendable job of keeping any political affinities hidden from the public (as they should).  The fact that I have difficulty guessing the political inclinations of most on-air Radio-Canada personalities speaks volumes (in a good sense).

But something went “astray” at Radio-Canada last month which I think is representative of numerous media outlets in Montréal – and they found themselves in the centre of this verbal media war of ideologies.  I’m guessing this incident only involved a few strong-headed, opinionated individuals.  But those individuals were aparently able to get their fingers on the “broadcast” button — which broke the elastic band.

A little bit of background:  The Conservatives cut almost $200 million from Radio-Canada/CBC’s budget last year, which resulted in 800+ people being layed off.  Radio-Canada employees held protest rallies and even a massive on-air protest concert.  You can see people at Rad-Can are not happy. (As an aside, the federal Liberals cut $400 million from Radio-Canada/CBC in the 1990s, but I don’t think we ever saw the same extent of displeasure towards the Liberals, at least not on the air).

With this backgrounder in mind, here are the events which lead to the elastic breaking:

In August 2014, Radio-Canada aired the anti-Harper documentary, “La droite religieuse au Canada”.  This is possibly the most politically controversial Canadian documentary of the past 30 years (or at least since Denys Arcand’s “On est au coton”).   After it aired in August, the Prime Minister’s head of communications publicly condemned Radio-Canada, stating that he “feared his worse suspicions about Radio-Canada were true”.  The Radio-Canada/CBC Ombudsman became involved.  The Ombudsman stated that the documentary’s airing did not meet the corporation’s standards requiring the organization to remain politically neutral.

The documentary purports that Steven Harper’s entire basis for being in politics is to align himself, and Canada’s governance, with Israel — so as to prepare himself and the world for the second coming of Christ, thus allowing him, his followers, and Alberta to go to Heaven.   I’m not BS’ing you here! (I couldn’t make this kind of stuff up, even if I tried).  If you don’t believe me, then click on the above link to watch the documentary yourself.  The link will take you to Radio-Canada’s own online re-broadcast site.  The documentary is an hour-long.

For a very long time (years), Québec City’s Right-leaning media had been going nuts over this type of bias, and have consistently cried foul over these types of things.  For months they beefed up their condemnations of Radio-Canada, of Montréal’s Left-leaning media (be it Télé-Québec, Rad-Can, newspaper columnists) and of the province’s very politically-vocal union movements.  In the meantime, Montréal’s media (both television and written press, as well as Montréal’s based union federations) stepped up their attacks of anything right-of-centre.

The elastic band got tighter…

… and tighter…

… and tighter.

Everything came to a head the last half of February 2015.  Get ready for this (grab that drink if you haven’t already… because you’re not going to believe this…):

  • On February 9, 2015, the host of a gourmet-cooking television show on Radio-CanadaChristian Bégin, took take part in anti-Québec-Liberal demonstration in a distant region of Québec.  He joined the unions to very publicly protest provincial Liberal budget cutbacks.  He appeared on television shouting and screaming in the name of anti-Liberal protestors.   This caught the ire of Québec City’s right-leaning media.   Québec City’s media tore into him, as did the very few elements of the Right-leaning written press in Québec.
  • On Feb 11, 2015, Lise Ravary, one of the few Federalist and Right-of-Centre columnists at the Journal de Montréal, wrote a column condemning Bégin’s actions.  In her newspaper column, she took personal shots at him for living the high-life, with a high salary paid by taxpayers (at Radio-Canada), and labelled him as a hypocritical, wine-sipping, gourmet loving bourgeois who is all talk, but doesn’t care about the little guy for whom he was protesting (Ouch!  Harsh! — now you can see they type of verbal war that has been going on since the 2012 student protest, between both sides!).  Rather, she charged that his protest was motivated by political reasons (against the Liberals, versus truly caring about the little guy).   She called him and those like him “La gauche champagne” (which means the “Champagne Left”).   [Don’t quote me on this, but I believe the expression in Europe would be “La Gauche caviar“, which is slightly different from our expression in Canada].  This garnered a lot of attention in the media (both Left and Right), and all media circles (the Right, the Left, sovereignists who traditionally lean Left, federalists who are traditionally lean Centre or Right-of-Centre, artists, columnist, etc)…  basically, everyone went to town over this one.   It was a verbal brawl like I haven’t seen for a very long time – and once again, it happened over the airwaves.
  • Around Feb 12, a host of Radio-Canada’s radio show “La soirée est encore jeune” sought revenge and took direct aim at the columnist Lise Ravary, calling her an “idot” (une dinde) on air, as well as taking aim at Québec city radio stations Radio-X and FM93, calling them “garbage”, and going so far as to lump anyone who is right-of-centre in the same category (again… this is what has been happening for 3 to 4 years, and it has been getting more and more out intense).
  • On February 13th, Québec City’s 93FM and Radio-X “let into” Radio-Canada and its program “La soirée est encore jeune”.  Radio-X’s host, Dominic Maurais, said he heard Rad-Can was going to move “La soirée est encore jeune” from the radio to television in order to give it more “visibility”. Maurais basically gave Radio-Canada a direct on-air warning, stating (actually, yelling, on air) that if Radio-Canada dares to make such a move by moving this program from the radio to television, considering that this program regularly blasts anything right of centre, that it will wake the dragon and will spell the end of Radio-Canada.   Radio-X basically stated that the cuts Radio-Canada was subjected to from the Federal government will be nothing compared to what they will suffer should “La soirée est encore jeune” be moved from radio to television.   Maurais basically told Radio-Canada to get ready to be privatized if things continue as they are.
  • I believe it was around Feb 14th, right after the above, when Radio-Canada aired a very peculiar episode of its popular prime-time family sitcom “Les Parents” (kind of like a Radio-Canada produced version of “Different Strokes”).  In this episode, the Radio-Canada scriptors took direct aim at the Right leaning Conservative Party by having the actors say that it is an embarrassment if a family has children who support the Conservatives.  In this prime-time episode, one of the children of the fictional sitcom family said that he wanted to grow up to be a Conservative so he could “change everything in the world”.  (Again, I’m not kidding you!).  His parents (in the show) told him he wasn’t raised like that, and to not tell anyone that he wants to be a Conservative.  Whoa!!  Holy Crap!    The next day, independent media again went nuts with this one.   Radio-Canada was blasted.
  • On February 15th, Harper made the unprecedented decision to wade into this very public spat himself (I was completely shocked it got to this point! — I’m not saying he was wrong, but holy smokes… I couldn’t believe it actually got to this point)  Harper granted an interview to Right-wing journalist Éric Duhaime of Québec City’s right-of-centre FM93 (the second most popular talk-radio station in Québec City).  Harper stated he (quote) “believed there are anti-Conservative elements inside Radio-Canada with an agenda against him”.
  • I believe it was the same day as Harper’s FM93 interview that Radio-Canada aired, unbelievably, for a second time, “La droite religieuse au Canada”— the documentary which alleges Prime Minister Harper’s entire agenda is to religiously rule and align Canada with Isreal so as to await the second coming of Christ so he can go to Heaven (without giving a “rat’s behind” about Québec, might I add — at least that’s the gist of the “documentary”).
  • Usually when I wake up in the morning, I grab my iPad and quickly skim the headlines before crawling out of bed.  The next morning, I just about fell out of bed when I read the the #1 headline on Radio-Canada’s website at 7:00am – the morning of February 16th.  Quote: “Steven Harper believes many Radio-Canada employees “Hate” Conservative Values” (the link for the article is here: “Beaucoup d’employés de Radio-Canada « détestent » les valeurs conservatrices, croit Stephen Harper”).   

So how did this very public p@##ing contest… er … media catastrophe from hell… er…  spat all end?   Well it looks like Radio-Canada’s senior management must have become involved.  By 10:00 or 11:00am, the above article was no longer anywhere to be found on Radio-Canada’s main webpage.  I’m guessing it must have been ordered taken down by someone higher up in management who wanted put an immediate end to this drama of epic tempertantrum proportions “innocent misunderstanding”.   The above article was taken down, moved and buried where nobody could find it… at the very bottom of an off-shoot page in the political section of Radio-Canada’s website.   This was the first time I had ever seen Radio-Canada take down a headline article within 3 or 4 hours of posting it.  I can just picture the emergency meetings senior management must have held on the top floors of the Radio-Canada tower that morning.  What I would not have given to have been a fly on their wall that morning!

I suppose this sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time in every media organization.   But considering the background of this last incident, I was surprised more self-restraint was not exercised much much earlier.

Regardless, it appears that everyone is now finally exercising a great deal of “lip-biting” self-restraint.   I have been waiting, watching and listening since the end of February – but for the first time since the 2012 student protests, everything seems to gone silent in this vicious Montréal-Québec, Left-Right tussle — on all sides.  I guess the elastic band did finally break.

But guess what’s right around the corner… Union backed student & street protests against Liberal government cutbacks.  I have a funny feeling it may soon be a case of “here we go all over again”.

As an aside, just so you know that these sorts of episodes of crazy manipulative mania can happen in English Canada too… I can give you a similar recent example of where a few over-zealous employees at the CBC pulled a similar stunt.  It happened when CBC decided to air the hour-long documentary “The Psychopath Next Door” (a documentary on what clinically defines a psychopath).  CBC aired this documentary in the time slot just before it aired the Fifth Estate’s hour-long episode “The Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi”, (a investigative reporting program which investigated Jian Ghomeshi).  “Coincidentally” the Unmaking of Jian Ghomeshi gave all the same psychopathic signs mentioned in the earlier clinical documentary.  Don’t even try to tell me CBC’s back-to-back airing for two straight hours was not a coincidence;  it sure looked like an effort on the part of CBC to seal-the-fate of Ghomeshi in the minds of the public, but more significantly, to deflect public criticism away from how the CBC handled the whole Ghomeshi affair, and shift more anger towards Ghomeshi (sneaky!).   Frankly, it was morally and ethically wrong on the part of the CBC to air the clinical documentary right before they aired their investigative report on Jian Ghomeshi, regardless of the allegations against Ghomeshi.

But with all this said and done… fortunately I still believe that the vast majority of Rad-Can’s  & CBC’s employees and management do their best to remain (and succeed in being) neutral, and do not, nor would not act on any sort of hidden agenda.  Most people who work at Rad-Can are just normal people, raising normal families, and trying to make both ends meet.  Personally, I have met a good number of people over the years within the organization, and have followed the organization for long enough to allow me to believe otherwise (the vast majority are normal people like you or me who would never pull these kinds of stunts).

I think the issue simply came down to a question of the sheer size of Radio-Canada, with hundreds and hundreds of employees.  In an organization of this size, you’re bound to get a few very opinionated individuals (even if they are not the majority) who will make the odd poor decision and who will goof up.

As with anything in life, it’s always the most vocal ones, or the most opinionated ones whose opinions tend to come across the strongest (or push the broadcast button the quickest).  Thus these few high-profile people sometimes tend to give rise to our media outlets acquiring an undeserved bad rap (on the radio, on TV, and in the written press).

I’m not going to give a shortlist of who I think these individuals are, but as you acquaint yourself with various media, you’ll soon find out who I’m talking about – on the Left, in the Centre, and on the Right.

———————————————————-

Addendum:  

27 March, 2015 — things still seem “quiet” on the Radio-Canada front.  Additional Rad-Can job cuts were announced yesterday, but people did not make a spectacle or flip-out over it over the public airwaves (which is something which occurred in the past).  Curiously, Marie-France Bazzo announced her departure today from Radio-Canada as of April 2015.  She very much was one of the on-air personalities who embodied a very public anti-right-of-centre standpoint.  The reasons invoked for her departure from Radio-Canada were “divergent viewpoints” between her and Radio-Canada management as to which direction her popular morning talk-show “C’est pas trop tôt!” should take (the flagship morning show of Radio-Canada).  I wonder how this little event fit into all of the above.  Again, what I would have given to have been a fly on the wall in Radio-Canada’s executive offices when these “divergent viewpoints” were being discussed.  😉 .  (Radio-Canada’s Bazzo’s announcement of her departure, with audio clip (curt, short, and very low-key… makes you wonder what happened):  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/arts_et_spectacles/2015/03/27/001-bazzo-emission-radio-canada.shtml

ADDENDUM:  2015-07-10

I’m still watching, and listening – across all media platforms, to try to figure out what the next chapter in all of this will be.

Quite interestingly, PKP has become the head of the Parti Québécois since the above spats.  It has become more than obvious that a good number of reporters, radio hosts, and television hosts on the left, centre and right so not like PKP and the PQ’s choice in having him as the head of their party.   This “less-than-kind” temperment for PKP (and coincidentally his wife, Julie Snyder) seems to have “united” the media across Québec, regardless if the media personalities are Federalist or Sovereignist, or left, right or centre.

Media elements which usually compete (and take shots at each other) on an ideological basis seem to have lost interest in each other for the first time in years.  Rather, they’re all focusing on what is happening within in the PQ (giving the PQ largely disproportionate news coverage — and often not good new coverage).   This in itself is quite interesting.

This is not to say that competing media elements have ceased taking shots at other media elements with opposing ideological standpoints (I still am hearing cheap-shots being taken on a range of issues), but PKP and his wife’s (Julie Snyder’s) political activism has certainly monopolized much of Québec’s media’s overall energies.

The winner in all of this?  The Provincial Liberal Couillard government (who is not being severely criticized, even from those who are usually most critical of the provincial Liberal camp – namely left-wing sovereignists).  Also, the Federal left-wing NDP party… and now even the Federal Right-wing Conservative party seem to be getting a free ride owing to a lack of airtime stemming to PKP having sucked all the oxygen from the room.

Intriguing stuff.  I can’t wait for the post-summer election season drama to resume in a few weeks to see where this all goes.  With the media squarely focused on PKP (namely against PKP), such a fragmentation of media attention could have an unintended impact on Federal election results.

ADDENDUM:  2015-07-28

It’s the middle of summer and good grief!  It seems to be starting again.

A show on Montréal based Radio-Canada lit into a show on Québec City based Radio X (you can listen to it here:  (Radio-Canada entretient sa guerre contre CHOI)

And Radio X let into Radio-Canada.  You can listen to it here:  Les Salaires à Radio-Canada.

Well, at least it makes for great entertainment.

ADDENDUM:  2015-09-12

Yup, we’re seeing the two “factions” back at each other’s throats again (Sigh x 10!).

Radio-X is all over Rad-Can for what they see as leftist and political bias from 24/60 and a hate-on coming from La Soirée est encore jeune.   They’re also lambasting Montréal’s media (and particularly Radio-Canada) for what they perceive as a continued news bias against anything right of centre.

As for Rad-Canada, Le Devoir, and other Montréal media plaftorms, we’re seeing the same mud being slung towards Québec City and the people of Québec for their overall right-of-centre standpoints.  One Radio-Canada program when so far as to call people from Québec City “des Mongols” – “Mongolians” in English – which is an extremely derogatory term for people with down-syndrome… making fun of their eyes, facial features and intelligence.  http://www.lapresse.ca/arts/medias/201506/17/01-4878745-la-soiree-est-encore-jeune-plongee-dans-une-crise-mediatique.php  

Wow… really really wow!  Unbelievable.  Here we go again!

———————————————————-

Post related to all of the above:  Le Plateau (#72)

Separate blog which regularly writes on the above topics:  http://www.cliqueduplateau.com/

Maurais Live (#49)

In an earlier post, “Québec Talk Radio – Who’s talking about what?”, we briefly looked at some of the more popular Francophone talk-radio stations & networks (all of which can be listened to through live streaming).   Two of the stations were the private network RNC’s Radio 9 Montréal, and CHOI-Radio X Québec (City).

Maurais Live is a Québec City based talk show which airs on both of the above stations, and is one of the most listened to talk radio shows in Eastern Québec and consequently on of the most listened to radio programs in all of Québec.  The show’s host is Dominic Maurais.

In general, it’s sometimes difficult (and touchy) to try to pin a precise political label on any one program owing to the fact that there are sometimes multiple, complex factors and measurements which can lead to nuanced conclusions.  However, for the purpose of context and understanding, I would say Maurais live, in terms of the broad Canadian political spectrum, can be classified as centre-right, generally not hostile to (yet constructively critical of) Federalism/Ottawa and generally critical of the direction Québec’s sovereignist movement has taken.  The program may find its greatest appeal with both Red-Tories, or Blue Liberals at the federal level, or CAQistes / Adéquistes / and centre-right-of-centre Liberals and Blue-Péquistes at the provincial level (Confused yet?)

Anglophones outside of Québec often tend to view Québec as one monolithic political bloc.  However, the reality is actually quite the contrary.  The Québec City region often votes very differently than Montréal, and rural regions will often vote differently than urban regions (with variances between those rural regions, depending on where they are).  Québec City and regions close to it (including the La Beauce, and Saguenay a little further out) comprise Québec’s “base” for Conservative Party votes & MPs, CAQ (and former ADQ) votes, as well as a good chunk of right-of-centre Liberal supporters (which is in stark contrast to Montreal which votes Liberal-left, Liberal-centre, left-of-centre NDP, far left Québec solidaire, and Parti Québécois in la Couronne [suburbs]).   Québec City is also less union oriented, whereas Montréal is more pro-union (think Windsor vs Toronto), less green/ecolo vs Montréal which is more green/ecolo (think Vancouver proper vs Calgary).

Again, in general terms, the overall political tendencies, opinions and views of Québec City and surrounding regions are very similar to those of BC (outside of the Lower Mainland), Northern Alberta (Red Deer North, including Edmonton), Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northern Ontario (that’s already a pretty big chunk of Canada).   Québec City’s economy also closely resembles the economies of these same areas (less Northern Alberta’s oil).  It has similar low unemployment rates (they’re hovering around a 4-5% Canadian unemployment rate, which equates to 2.5-3% US unemployment), vibrant agricultural and forestry sectors, high service sector concentrations, with strong employment infrastructure in the government, university, and health service sectors — all with similar demographic drivers.  It’s a very different economic picture than other regions of Québec.

Sovereignty support in the Québec City region (not a simple subject to sum-up in one paragraph, but lets give it a shot … …) is not as overt, nor does it surface here as much as it can periodically in other regions of Québec.   Those sovereignists the region does have are generally considered to be “soft” supporters (des souverainistes mous) .  It’s a region where people will often say they’re not necessarily sovereignists, but they’re not necessarily federalists either (still confused?). It comes down to a lot of factors.  Generally it’s a question of sentiment.  People in this regions often feel the sovereignty movement does not provide a picture-perfect future, but yet Federalist camps haven’t exactly come home with a bag full of the freshest produce either (it’s kind of like hearing so many Anglophones elsewhere in Canada saying they “just don’t know who to vote for”… now is the ambiguity becoming clearer?).

Elsewhere in Québec, the sovereignist vote is driven on strong emotion (especially amongst the legacy Quiet Revolution generation, as well as those supporting left-wing politics), but that emotion is tempered to a large degree in the Québec City Region.  This tempered emotion, combined with more right-of-centre political tendencies make it so sovereignty has become more of an economic issue in the Québec City region than elswhere (and it has remained as such for much of the last 20 years).   With having to court such a diverse province-wide electorate, you can begin to see the headaches the PQ is having with rallying such a sporadic electorate to their cause (which has lead to the current collapse of votes for an organized sovereignist movement).   That’s not to say the movement is permanently dead, but there are a lot of things up in the air.

35 years ago, Yvon Deschamps, one of Québec’s best known figures and living symbols of the Quiet Revolution – and quite possibly the father of Québec comedy and all the spin-offs which have shaped Québec’s pop-culture today – said “Ce que les québécois veulent, c’est un Québec indépendant dans un Canada fort” (“What Québécois desire is an independent Québec in a strong Canada”).   His statement was full of irony – but strikes a chord on so many levels.  Québec’s politics and economics have followed along this trajectory for generations.    Many have decided, for them personally, that it means they can be proud Québécois and proud Canadians.  Others feel proud to be Québecois without the Canadian connection, others struggle with the issues, and yet others are simply apathetic (owing to many different factors).

Wheat this means, is that right now (as in generations past), there remains a large, drifting electorate to be courted by all parties of the political spectrum (federally and provincially), but which all parties are finding difficult to court as one coherent collective block (for politicians, Québec probably would be so much easier to court to if it were divided into two, or even three provinces — reflecting various regional political differences) .  Throw in a deficit that many feel is wildly out of control and in need of rapid remedy (a view that also has opponents who believe the deficit is not so dire, and does not need measures of austerity [or rigeur as some may say]), and you have political dynamics which become extremely complicated.   Then add the Federal Conservative equation to the mix, which has a social side that does not resonate with much of Québec, and politics become a big tangled ball of twine.  (When Québec votes “Blue”, which they do – CAQ, ADQ, right-PQ-elements, right-Liberal-elements, a few conservatives — those same people still place a lot of importance on certain aspects of a “Red” agenda — hence why Québec City and other regions have a “Red” Tory streak, but not so much for the current Conservatives).  After the Liberal collapse of the Chretien/Martin years, the Conservatives seem to have adopted a “don’t bring ‘it’ up” standpoint with anything regarding constitutional discussions, and an “ignore-it-to-death” approach to sovereignty.  Such an approach may have actually had an effect on sovereignty (it eliminated the Federal government as a “meddling” common target for sovereignists, leaving a parceled sovereignist base of competing factions and views which semi-imploded from in-fighting in front of the public – which has left the electorate less-than-impressed with any organized sovereignty movements).  But the “ignore-it-to-death” and “don’t bring ‘it’ up” policy of the Conservatives has also had the negative consequence of leaving many Québécois feeling out of touch with, and semi-abandoned/neglected by Ottawa.  For many Québecois who have little contact with the Rest-of-Canada (and there are many owing to Québec’s media which routinely neglects to afford the ROC comprehensive coverage), Ottawa is the only face they have with which to relate to Canada  – hence a feeling of “detachment” from Canada. But yet these same people also have a “detachment” from sovereignty.   We’re starting to see both the federalists parties and sovereignist parties trying to gain political traction, and trying to capitalize on these feelings of “detachments” with each other’s camps.  Both sides are thus trying to woo these “lost voters” (to fill the vacuum, if you will).  Although there is a stable provincial Liberal majority government in power, certain individuals in Québec politics are already making their counter moves (it will be interesting to see how things play out now that the PQ is planning one of the longest party leadership races in Canadian history, with a new leader to be selected in May 2015).   The economy of course is something everyone wants the government to pay attention to (federally and provincially), but in Québec, as much as the economy is an issue just like anywhere else in Canada, there are always these other issues as well.

As you can see, trying to objectively sum up “current” Québec politics in the most general of terms, all in one paragraph, is not an easy task, with no single correct explanation (don’t shoot me in the comments section).

If you’d like to get a better handle on the nuances of Québec politics and societal views, Maurais Live could be a really good radio program for Anglophone Canadians.  It looks at issues from the same political standpoint to which a large part of Canada adheres (which would provide many Anglophones with common a base reference point when listening to topics being discussed).

The show’s host, Dominic Maurais, is one of the few Francophone talk show celebrities who is also very familiar with Anglophone Canada (he graduated from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and lived in Toronto for a while).   He therefore can bring a larger perspective to many issues and can play devil’s advocate or give a voice to those without one when necessary.

His show (along with the RCN radio network’s other shows) deals an awful lot with the political and economic direction Québec is taking (as well as Canada’s), and he has a line of regular commentators and guest from all colours of the political and economic spectrum.   Although he himself is based out of RCN’s Québec City studios, the fact that he broadcasts on Montréal’s Radio 9, makes it so topics are of interest to the entire province.   Because of the Montréal / Québec City Left-Right political divide (mentioned above), the show can often be a flash-point of sparks.   It’s really a great way to understand the extremely complex political dynamics being played out in Québec.

Maurais has a regular column in Le Journal de Québec, is a guest columnist in some of the largest Montréal newspapers, and is a regular panelist on political talk-TV (especially the TVA / LCN networks).   Because of his presence, he is one of the best known and respected radio-show hosts in Québec.

If your French is not perfect, well…, it will improve by listening to Maurais live (give it a shot for a month… you only learn by trying).  The regular use of Joual  may throw many beginners, but you’ll have to learn to develop an ear for it anyway if you really want to understand the issues, so this might just be the right show.

Radio X has done an excellent job with their website.  The show is broadcast daily for two hours each day.  Shows are available online for one week (Friday’s show is related to music and light topics, no politics or economics), and each archived show online is divided into topics discussed (you can therefore browse what you wish to listen to).

Their APP is excellent for iPads and iPhones (you can turn the screen off, and it continues to play, saving your battery).

The shows website can be accessed at the link HERE.

Bonne écoute, et bonne chance de vous démêler dans toute cette grande boule de ficelle! (mais en fin de compte, c’est pas si compliqué que ça).


ADDENDUM 2015-01-24

Maurais Live is no longer syndicated on Montreal Radio 9.  However it remains on Radio X, and Maurais remains the most popular and listened to radio host in Québec city and the province’s Eastern half.